In 2017, Donald Trump repeatedly claimed without evidence that between 3 and 5 million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton. In recent weeks, Trump has resurrected his lie at campaign rallies for Republican primary candidates he has endorsed – stoking fears of ‘open borders and horrible elections’, and calling for tougher privacy laws. voter identification and proof of citizenship at the polls.
Trump supporters and wannabes amplify this lie. JD Vance, the Trump-backed winner of the Republican Senate primary from Ohio last week, claimed that President Biden’s immigration policy had resulted in “more Democratic voters are flocking to this country”.
There is, however, a problem with foreigners influencing US elections – but that has nothing to do with immigrants or fraudulent voting.
It is foreign money flowing into the American countryside.
Some of the stream is clearly illegal. Last October, Lev Parnas, a Florida businessman who helped Rudy Giuliani dig up Joe Biden in Ukraine, was found guilty of funneling money from a Russian entrepreneur to American politicians.
The real scandal is how much foreign money legally enters US elections.
The 2010 US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission opened the doors. It allows foreigners to influence US elections through their investments in politically active US companies.
The five-judge Conservative majority said that when it comes to political speech, the identity of the speaker is irrelevant and that more speech is always better.
Dissenting, Judge John Paul Stevens argued that the logic of the court’s decision would allow foreign spending for US elections, threatening US interests.
Stevens was right. If the identity of the speaker doesn’t matter and more speech is always better, what would prevent foreign spending on US elections?
The non-Americans whose money is now finding its way into American campaigns – mostly benefiting Republican candidates – include Russian oligarchs, the Saudi royal family, European financiers, Chinese corporate conglomerates and many other people and organizations that owe their allegiance to powers other than the United States. States.
The growing problem revolves around three realities:
First, foreign investors now have a huge 40% stocks of American companies. That’s up from just 5% in 1982.
Second, corporate America spends hundreds of millions of dollars to influence elections – counting their separate political action committees or the personal donations of executives and employees. Much of this spending is through hidden money channels that opened up after the Citizens United decision.
Third, by law, corporate directors and officers are responsible to their shareholders, including foreign shareholders, and not to America. As CEO of the American company Exxon Mobil, shamelessly declared“I’m not an American company and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the United States.”
The second and third points alone constitute substantial threats to American democracy. Add the former, and you have a sieve through which non-Americans — whose interests don’t necessarily align with US interests — claim increasing influence over American policy.
Follow the money. In recent years, Russian billionaire oligarchs have bought significant amounts from Facebook, Twitter and Airbnb. Saudi Arabia has about 10% of Uber based in the United States and sits on its board of directors.
Many of America’s largest corporations with substantial foreign ownership (including AT&T, Comcast and Citigroup) have paid millions of dollars to the Republican Attorney Generals Association, which in turn funded the pro-Trump rally the morning of the January 6 insurrection.
What to do about it? The Center for American Progress has a sensible proposal: it recommends that no U.S. corporation with 5% or more of its stock foreign-controlled or 1% or more controlled by a single foreign owner be allowed to spend money to influence US election results. or ballot measures.
Corporate governance experts and regulators agree that these thresholds reflect the level of ownership needed to influence corporate decision-making.
OK, but how do you get this proposal passed, when large US-based corporations with large foreign investments have so much influence over Congress?
Democrats should make this an issue as the 2022 midterm elections approach. As Republicans rail against the entirely fictional danger to the United States posed by undocumented immigrants voting in US elections, should oppose the real danger to American democracy of foreign money affecting American elections through foreign investment in American corporations.